In this episode of The Chemical Show, host Victoria Meyer explores why storytelling is critical for businesses to control the narrative about their performance, products, and value creation. Victoria shares how business storytelling involves interpreting facts and creating emotional connections as well as what makes a good story – starting with the end in mind, choosing the right information and time frame, using visual supports, choosing strong words, making it personal, and relatable.
Topics discussed in this week’s episode:
- The case for storytelling in business
- Why owning the narrative is critical
- Insights from Harvard Business School
- 3 tips for compelling business stories
- Case study on the power of the right story
Tune in to learn more on this episode of The Chemical Show!
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Using Storytelling to Make Your Business Case
Hi. This is Victoria Meyer. Welcome back to the Chemical Show. This is a quick hitter episode where I focus on a particular business topic. Today’s topic, the importance of excellent business storytelling.
Storytelling in business is critical. It’s not about fairy tales. It’s not about making up stories. It’s really about controlling the narrative on your business or aspects of your business. We do it every day. I mean, I think humans in general are storytellers. If you look through history, a lot of our history is oral history and it’s passed on through storytelling. And we do a lot of it in business, but it’s not always as deliberately as we could or should.
I’ve talked about this before, it is really critical for companies and leaders to own the narrative. As I like to say, if you don’t tell your story, someone else will and they’re going to tell it in their way, embellishing details that support their point of view and not yours.
So what stories are we talking about? These are stories about business performance. It’s about your products and your company. It’s about ESG And Sustainability. There is a multitude of places that we can and should be telling stories and really owning that narrative.
In episode 106, I spoke with Kevin Yttre of Grace Matthews about M&A for chemicals and materials companies. If you listened to that episode, you’ll recall that Kevin talked about when a company is in a deal making process, let’s just say potentially selling their business, it is absolutely critical to articulate that business story in a compelling manner. Where you are today, where your business is going, managing the story, the narrative, the optics and really creating value in the eyes of the beholder, whether it be the buyer or the seller.
This is also supported by a recent Harvard Business School study about economics – not about storytelling. This was about economics. What that study found is if you want your target audience to remember the message the next day, tell a story. So Thomas Graebur, who’s a professor at Harvard Business School, conducted the study, entitled Stories, Statistics, and Memory. He found that people were more likely to recall information over a much longer period when it’s wrapped in an anecdote as opposed to statistics.
I think across the industry, we are number lovers and it’s easy to say, well the numbers tell the story. I’m sorry, the numbers don’t tell the story. The numbers tell us something and it relies on us as individuals and as leaders to wrap a story around it. It’s our responsibility to make sure that when people are looking at the numbers, understanding the numbers, that using a story – we help them get to the answer.
For simplicity, when we talk about business storytelling, I’m breaking this into 2 broad categories. One is the brand story and variations of it. Your company, your people, your products, and the value they create. There’s a multitude of stories that need to be told around that.
The second type of story that’s really critical to manage and own is the results story, your business performance, your business strategy and vision, the direction that you’re going, stories around, negotiation and how that needs to take place. There’s again, when you think about the results story, there’s multitude of places that stories need to be told.
How do you tell a good story about your business though? So when you think about that, what is critical in telling that story? So number 1, storytelling when we think about business is really about interpreting the facts. Storytelling not just about business, but about life is about interpreting the facts. So, you and I both had the experience where you’re telling a story about an experience that you had with a friend, and your friend is telling the same story completely differently. They experience differently. They narrate the story differently.
Stories can be told in a multitude of ways. And that’s really because storytelling in many ways is interpreting the facts. It’s creating the emotional connection and helping cement that event, the facts, et cetera, in somebody’s mind.
1. Start with the end in mind
When you’re getting ready to tell a story and are really deliberately thinking about the story that you’re telling, there are a few pointers that I’ve got to help with business storytelling. Number 1, start with the end in mind. We’ve heard the Stephen Covey statement of, “Start with the end in mind.” This is true of story telling. What response are you trying to drive? Are you trying to gain support, understanding, anger, alignment, hope, belief, understanding – I’m bringing that understanding back again. What is it that you want your audience, whether it’s an audience of one or an audience of many, to walk away with.
2. Choose the right information and timeframe
Choosing the right information and time frame. We talk about this in the context of business reporting, business storytelling. My example with Kevin Yttre, when a company is getting ready to sell its business, calling the right story, picking the right information, picking the right time frame as part of your setup for your story.
3. Visual support
Visual support. Visuals are so critical, whether it be a chart, whether it be an actual image, a picture paints a thousand words, or maybe it’s a prop. I’m gonna talk to you in just a moment about the use of props and storytelling and how powerful that can be.
4. Word choice matters
And then word choice. Word choice matters, having strong words, having words that invoke the response that you’re hoping for. We all have instinctive responses to words. When you are crafting your business story, word choice matters – pick the right ones.
5. Make your story personal
And then really bringing that story in and making it personal. Whether it be a narrative around a situation, whether making it very specific, right, bringing in a specific customer or an individual location. I’ve had those experiences, and you guys have too where you can make your business case when you can talk about “Oh, company x told me this, and that’s critical.” Making it personal and specific, making it relatable – relatable to the individual, relatable to the business, relatable to the situation that you’re in.
Here’s a storytelling example I want to share with you. Several years ago, an executive from CPChem spoke at a conference in Houston that I was attending. And the talk was really about growth and the investment that they were making in the US Gulf Coast. And as it turned out, it was really about emphasizing the importance of plastics and, of course, CPChem is a large polyethylene producer and they’re heavily investing, and have invested, and continue to invest in plastics and the value chain. But, the importance of plastics in the role that sustainability plays in it.
So imagine this. It’s a business conference. Several hundred people are there. This executive takes a stage and he’s got a prop. That prop is a loaf of bread. I’m just gonna tell you I have never seen a loaf of bread on stage before. That was a new one to me. Well, that loaf of bread was really relatable and he utilized that prop as part of his story. So the story being you know, bread and plastic packaging, very common, familiar to most of us when you look at the store shelves, maybe what you have in your pantry and a loaf of bread in a plastic bag lasts twice, three times, four times as long as a loaf of bread that maybe is sitting on the counter or a loaf of bread that’s in paper.
Number 1, it’s a great prop. Two, it’s really relatable. We all understand loaves of bread. We’ve had the experience with it going bad, with it getting hard and drying out, et cetera. And recognition that to that plastic bag for that very simple loaf of bread, made it last longer.
Number 2, really strong word choice, right? So this individual, he talked about the complex and sophisticated technology that went into that multilayer plastic bag for that the for the loaf of bread. So very deliberate word choice, very strong word choice. Because plastic bags are actually really complex, carefully engineered products. Something that you wouldn’t necessarily think of. We’ve all got plastic bags around our house being used in various ways, shapes, and forms. Very deliberate word choice to evoke the sense that hey, this is actually – while it may be cheap, it is really sophisticated. It is critically important and it’s well thought out what the product is and how it’s used.
So simple prop, loaf of bread, very relatable, strong words. And then he brought in the numbers. And part of the story was around how plastics help reduce food waste. Right? So the story of the loaf of bread, how much longer it lasts in plastics right, 2 to 3 weeks versus 2 to 3 days. And food waste contributes to approximately 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions. And if food waste were a country, it would be the 3rd largest greenhouse gas emitter.
That was powerful. It was supremely powerful, simple, relatable, strong word choice, bringing in facts, and frankly, bringing that narrative to bear in the way that it created and then connected an emotional response. Okay. How relatable was it? Five years later, I still remember this story. I also remember going back to my office after this event and saying, “Is that really true? Let me look up the facts.” Oh, yeah. Sure enough. Food waste- if it were a country, would be the 3rd largest greenhouse gas emitter. I’m actually gonna link something to it just so that you guys know as well.
Compelling story. The power of business storytelling to build support, to create your narrative, to instill your point of view, and elicit some understanding, empathy, emotion, in your business, your facts, your economics, your data, your story.
So go out and tell a story today. Next time you’re presenting information about boring facts or information, think about the story you can tell and how you’re gonna weave your narrative in a way that makes that emotional connection and brings support to your point of view.
Thanks for joining us today on The Chemical Show. Keep reading. Keep following. Keep sharing, and we will talk to you again very soon.